Coursemaster Hydrive loaned us the Coursemaster CM80i autopilot for a year-long review as part of our continuing program of testing and rating small boat marine autopilots.
Four components make up the standard Coursemaster CM80i autopilot system: the control/display head, junction box, hydraulic pump/drive, and a fluxgate compass. Another optional component, which was included with our test system, is a rate gyro.
According to Coursemaster literature, adding this unit smoothes the ride by counteracting acceleration effects caused by excessive vessel movement.
The Coursemaster CM80i is one of just a few small boat autopilots currently on the market that do not need a rudder interface to function properly.
Another benefit of not needing a rudder interface unit is the adaptability of the pilot. Though it was designed primarily for hydraulically steered outboard powered boats between 18 and 32 feet, it can be used on boats equipped with stern drives, straight inboards, or even sailboats.
Operating the CM80i is easy. Once power is supplied to the system by pressing the Stby button, a self-test is performed. When complete, the display window in the control head will read Stby, the current course is shown in a large type size, and the selected course is displayed in smaller size. Pressing the Pilot button once engages the autopilot in a course-hold mode and changes the annunciation to read Pilot. The selected course becomes whatever your current course was when you hit the button.
Press the right or left arrow buttons to change course without disconnecting the autopilot. A single press will change the selected course by one degree. Holding an arrow key down will change course in 10-degree increments continuously. All course changes selected will be displayed as they are entered to allow the operator to accurately monitor turn progress.
Tracking a Course
Navigating to waypoints or along routes is a very useful aspect in any autopilots operation and the CM80i accomplishes this task through its Auto-Navigation mode. On our test boat, the GPS receiver was coupled to the autopilot. This allowed us to use and test the navigation feature thoroughly and completely.
Our standard procedure for initiating Navigation mode was to turn on course, select Pilot (course-hold) mode, then hold the Pilot button for two beeps until Nav is annunciated on the control heads display window. The autopilot did very well holding a course to a waypoint using this technique both in calm and rough seas.
While in Nav mode, the arrow keys are disabled. Unfortunately the unit does not have a built-in dodge function. To avoid an obstruction close ahead while operating in Nav, requires the helmsmen to press the Pilot button once, disengaging Nav, then maneuver using the arrow buttons as needed. To recapture the Nav course, either maneuver back on course manually with the arrow buttons or simply hold down the Pilot button until Nav re-engages. Both methods work.
Unlike some other autopilots, the Coursemaster CM80i does not have multi-level gain control; instead the unit has a normal or rough water mode of operation. Weve found the normal mode worked well on our Contender under all conditions.
After 1-year of operation aboard our test boat the Coursemaster CM80i autopilot has proven to be totally reliable. We have had no mechanical problems with any system component.
The Coursemaster CM80i is a no-frills marine autopilot that does a good job handling steering duties. It will track a course or go to a waypoint. Both of these tasks are performed well. Two additional upsides weve found with this system are extremely quiet operation and its lack of rudder-interface hardware.
This autopilot is significantly more expensive than other autopilots we’ve tested. We’ve found it on the web priced at $2995. It carries a 1-year warranty.